Author Topic: Thoughts on Synchronicity  (Read 3323 times)


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Thoughts on Synchronicity
« on: October 10, 2011, 12:50:37 PM »
I've been reading The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche which includes both Jung's Synchronicity — An Acausal Connecting Principle and Pauli's The Influence of Archetypal Images on Kepler’s Theories.  I decided to poke around the internet looking for critical responses and found one that explores the idea of Intuiton and Synchronicity that reinforced some of my own ideas:

This article embeds itself in the New Age/parapsychology/Intuition academic community through its references which are supportive of the notion that Synchronicity indicates an objective quality of the external world that is unexplainable in terms of Western science.

I find that my own belief is that the positing of an objective quality to synchronicity, that is, an order that exists independently of the individual knower is in correct and shows up both the strengths and limitations of the intuitive + feeling perspective. 

The strength comes from the fact that feeling is capable of finding meaning in the world while intuition creatively discovers the perceptions that feeling evaluates as meaningful and important.  However, as soon as these intuitive-feeling truths are brought to the sensation-thinking realm of science, they are easily dismantled and shown to have poor objective truth in the scientific realm.

However much of a scientist I find myself to be I must acknowledge that synchronicity provides a means for lending the gravity of objective reality to certain intuitive/feeling truths that can allow an individual to act willingly in the world.  Everyone should tend the garden of their own subjective perceptions as these are vital to one's overall psychic health and even share them collectively with that same goal in mind.  However, such perspectives should be retained as personal and sacred and not pushed too far into the scientific community where reproducibility (sensation-thinking) is vital.

Jung does, at least, provide some clear thinking regarding how one might attempt to design scientific studies of the phenomenon and, as such, it crystalizes the discussion between New Age/spiritual "sciences" and the more traditional experimental sciences.

Matt Koeske

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Re: Thoughts on Synchronicity
« Reply #1 on: October 10, 2011, 04:25:19 PM »
I agree with you on synchronicity, Sealchan.  Even in my early Jungian days when I was less scientifically oriented, I never took to synchronicity (as most Jungians understand it).  Synchronicity as a psychological principle, I am totally OK with.  That is, (as you also described in different terms) when we are keyed in to certain phenomena that relate to some point of mental fixation (like a complex we are working with), we are more likely to notice and assign patterns to random events that render them meaningful.  But these thoughts, feelings, and events are meaningful only subjectively, only to the individual perceiver.  They are not objectively meaningful or indicative of an extra-psychic connecting principle (although others may be capable of understanding the pattern the perceiving individual has recognized/attributed).

Even today, Jungians are very big on synchronicity . . . and in truth, I've always found this disappointing and seen it as something of a bad habit that they will have to get over if Jungian psychology is ever to evolve enough to meet up with the modern (and primarily scientific/naturalistic) world of human thought.  Jung meant for synchronicity to be truly "modern" (a psychological parallel of quantum physics), but it has stood almost from the beginning as an archaism, a bit of spiritualistic thinking only entertainable when divorced from scientific reasoning and analysis.

The text "Synchronicity: an Acausal Connecting Principle" is quite a curiosity.  It's admittedly been years since I last read it, but my recollection is that Jung goes through a number of parapsychological "studies" and speculations (including, I do remember, an attempt to apply astrological chart readings to historical world events).  But instead of taking a fully "mystical" (and belief based) stance on these things, he tries to evaluate them at least quasi-scientifically . . . perhaps as if to prove to his more skeptical self that such things are valid natural phenomenon and not subjective projections and wish fulfillments.  The book is a weird collision of Jung at his most scientific and simultaneously at his most parapsychological/spiritualistic.  These two Jungs seem to be having a kind of brotherly scuffle with one another.  And no one really wins.  Some of the parapsychological data, Jung himself realizes, does not hold up to scientific scrutiny.  Other items (e.g., ESP studies) that he relates "scientific" data for were later on debunked by stricter, more error-proof scientific studies.

Ultimately, the essay/book is a failure.  I.e., it fails to demonstrate that there is any scientific basis behind parapsychological ideas like synchronicity.  And yet, I have never heard another Jungian really admit this . . . at least not clearly and definitively.

The way Jung splits into "two part-Jungs" in "Synchronicity" makes me think that he was wrestling with a complex.  It has been my theory for a few years or so now that these two Jungs were always engaged in the construction of analytical psychology (and that their dialog with one another became the body and soul of analytical psychology . . . much as Jung's dialog with his inner psychic Others in the Red Book produced the skeleton of analytical psychology).  I'm not sure if they are directly related to the Number One and Number Two personalities he describes having (from an early age) in Memories, Dreams Reflections.  But I do feel pretty certain that Jung himself was aware of this dual-mindedness in his personality and work.

It has always been the Jungian belief (and unquestioned assumption) that Jung's later works were his "deepest" and "most mature".  That would be "Synchronicity", Aion, Mysterium Coniunctionis, and "Answer to Job".  I disagree and suspect this assumption comes mostly from a strong bias that favors the "progress" of the "second half of life" in Jungian thought and identity . . . a kind of pro-senex bias that despises the puer and underestimates youth and its creative capacity and energy.  Of course, it is much more typical in creative people for them to "peak" and have a prime that rarely extends into their later years (past age 60 or even 50).  There are some exceptions, of course, but the norm is that creative people do their most revolutionary and influential work before age 50 . . . and often in their 20s and 30s.  The privileging of the "wisdom" of later life in Jungian thought is, in my opinion, the product of a complex rather than an actual scientific observation.

My opinion of Jung's late work is that it does not represent his best thinking.  This is not at all to say that it is "weak" or worthless.  I think there is great value in Jung's late work for Jungians. This is because Jung's late work begins to deviate from the synchronized dual-mindedness that characterized most of his work from the 1920s to the 1950s.  Those two minds (the mystic and the scientist) worked together very well for decades, each one balancing the other . . . or in Jung's own terminology, he preserved the "tension of the opposites".  But in his last decade or so (perhaps after his heart attack in 1944, especially), Jung seemed to lose the "heroic energy" to hold the "tension of the opposites" together.  I think he became less interested in being a "public intellectual", theorist, and psychologist, and more interested in his own residual spiritual or individuation journey.  The one thing that all of Jung's late work has in common that most of his earlier work lacks is a sense of Jung-the-man's personal struggle to understand himself and his fate. 

He wrestles with God in "Answer to Job".  He wrestles with the implications of mystical transformation in Mysterium.  In Aion, he wrestles with Christ (and Antichrist).  In "Synchronicity", he pits his scientific phenomenologist self against his mystical self and fights to a stalemate.  But I don't think his heart was in the science/psychology anymore at that point.  He was looking to settle the outstanding pieces of relationship with his God.  I have sympathy for that, but it frustrates me that Jungians take this late attempt of Jung to "find himself" as a commandment or absolute truth . . . as "doctrine".  Jungians lose the capacity to look on Jung's late life psychologically, i.e., as though it were a single man's personal experience and encounter with what, after a long life, he himself "means".  Before this, Jung spent decades being the "great man", the intellectual achiever . . . even (to many Jungians) a modern prophet.  But that was all "for the world" or for others or for reputation or "the common good" of "intellectual history".  I think Jung had unfinished business reckoning with himself (the Red Book also suggests that this would be inevitable, because it ends with inflation and an exiling of the psychic Other . . . that Other that is the only one capable of introducing Jung to himself utterly and away form the context of ego, identity and tribe).

So, if you want to understand Jung the man, read these late works carefully and as though they were the subjective testimony of a man trying to understand himself.  But if you want to understand analytical psychology, read the prior works like Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Psychological Types, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, and his various writings on dream analysis, analytical method, psychopathology and psychotherapy.  Jung's important self-defining early work (1912) was revised substantially in 1952, becoming Symbols of Transformation.  But I think we would do well to remember that the original version (Psychology of the Unconscious) was Jung's fundamental statement of independence and differentiation from Freud and psychoanalysis.  I feel this gives further credence to my belief that Jung's late work was about finding himself more so than about psychology.

But because for many Jungians Jung is a kind of guru or even a Christ figure, these late works are remade into sacred texts or gospels of the deepest truths.  I think this attitude only perpetuates the deification (and the fallout from that deification) that Jung the man has been treated to by his followers.  It further suspends the psychological attitude that is needed to better investigate and understand Jung the complex, but purely human, being.  Modern "post-Jungianism" has moved from deification to near demonization of Jung the man, treating Jung as a kind of albatross that drags down Jungian psychology because of his personal failings and "sins" (mostly anti-Semitism).  But this is merely an enantiodromia.  Jung the human being is still not being addressed.

One last thing on synchronicity.  Perhaps the best Jungian book on synchronicity was written by Joseph Cambray in 2009: Synchronicity: Nature and Psyche in an Interconnected Universe.  Cambray is one of the most intelligent Jungians writing today and has a background (Ph.D.) in chemistry, I think.  I have been meaning to read this book, but so far have only read the first chapters.  Luckily, it is available online here (from the Texas A&M digital library) as a .pdf:  If one is going to explore Jungianism and synchronicity today, this book is essential reading.

I don't know/remember if Cambray explores the phenomenon of synchronicity in the context of modern studies on human perception, pattern attribution, rationalization, and confabulation coming out of the cognitive sciences . . . but those studies present the real challenge to the attribution of synchronistic phenomena to some kind of natural "force" coordinating external events with personal thoughts and emotions in a "meaningful" way.  I feel that these studies describe for us a human mind that is not only capable and predisposed but almost determined to attribute synchronicities to random events and subjective ideas and feelings.  I don't think any Jungian theory that argues for synchronicity as a kind of natural or supernatural "principle" can surmount arguments and evidence to counter the findings of these studies.
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Re: Thoughts on Synchronicity
« Reply #2 on: October 11, 2011, 03:22:15 PM »
One idea that I have fairly clear in my head is that one can focus on one's sense of meaning and then separately focus on one's sense of objective truth as two independent "ways of knowing".  In my Master's thesis I implicitly asked the question, "What if truth, as a function of the individual mind, doesn't reduce to one coherent system, but, instead, like any other living, biological system, attempts to cover the same ground with multiple approaches...that is, what if our personal sense of truth derives from some set of different, semi-independent cognitive processes and our own personal truths simply don't all cohere together like a good college essay?

There is little in our culture to support the sense of growing and nurturing multiple personal epistemologies...instead we must always present a united front as if our lives and beliefs had to fit into a essay written for English class.  I refer to an essay written for a school class because my first experience of having multiple, usually conflicting views on any subject first clearly arose when I attempted to write an essay in school that made a coherent arguement.  My efforts were always thwarted by the fact that for any thesis I could as easily come up with reasons against it as I could for it.  This issue never truly "went away" for me even in my last "school paper" my Master's thesis.  I find in this perhaps the deepest level of personal meaning and I use it as a guide to understanding Jung.

I refer to Jung's Typological theory as a potential description of the multi-modal nature of how the brain processes "truth".  That Jung might not have applied his own insights to synchronicity but insisted on the tension that arises from someone placing meaning on something that someone else would indicate is merely random, leads me to believe that he didn't quite get what he himself had helped to illuminate.  However, it may be that my exposure to other Jungian's elaborations on Jung's typological theory have served to provide me with a deeper appreciation of the idea.  I know, Matt, that you are not as enamoured of Jung's typology as I am, but I continue to find it as invaluable tool for understanding psychology and really philosophy/epistemology.

So even as I wrote what I did above I had to stop myself and wonder if I had treated the four functions fairly.  If I had favored my two strongest functions (intuition and thinking) as objective and my two weakest functions (sensation and feeling) as subjective, I might have had more cause for concern.

Still if I have seemed to myself to have done a disservice to feeling (my tertiary function) by making it in this context "merely" subjective, then I would do well to remind myself that feeling also makes truth that is of value to the knower.  Thinking tends to generate value-independent "truths" and therefore can often be dismissed as "unimportant" to an individual.  And in the end what life is worth living that is not found by the knower to be meaningful no matter how objective?  It is through a multi-modal perspective such as I have tried to capture in this discussion that I have found the only source of lasting value in trying to form my own theories and understandings of what is deeply true in this world. 

In short, in Jung's four functions I see four differently-able (have differing qualitative capabilities in different knowledge contexts) ways of knowing truth that can be used to construct and equally deconstruct human knowledge, but cannot be held down to a single comprehensive AND rational system of epistemology.  Without recognizing the multi-modal source of one's truths, one usually confounds the types of truth together and creates blindnesses and other errors of knowledge that lead to mutual misunderstandings and seemingly unnecessary inner conflicts.